Last year I made a bad joke to watch out for the next big vaccine: one for pimples. Well, if Julie Gerberding gets her way, you may actually see this kind of outrageous vaccine hit the market in the near future.
Gerberding just landed a new job as the head of Merck's $5 billion vaccine division. At Merck, she'll be responsible for boosting sales of Gardasil, the company's cervical cancer vaccine, as well as Zostavax, the company's shingles vaccine.
So here's the interesting twist to the story...
Does Gerberding's name ring a bell? It should. She's the former top dog at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, she left the CDC last January—almost one year ago to the day—when the new Obama administration took over in Washington, D.C.
Gerberding couldn't go straight to work for Merck. No, that would raise too many eyebrows (and break a few federal laws)...
Gerberding "cools off" and ignites fires
Instead, Gerberding's been "cooling off" for the last 12 months. You see, federal law requires that former employees wait at least one year before going to work for a company whose profits stem from government decisions.
But, truthfully, Gerberding didn't "cool off" very much in 2009. No, she went to work for the PR giant Edelman. And any bets on which companies Edelman represents? You got it: Merck pharmaceuticals (as well as just about every other key player in the industry).
In 2009, Gerberding became a PR pro. She gave lots of TV interviews, especially about H1N1. During one interview with Good Morning America, Gerberding really stoked the fires. Commenting on the H1N1 vaccine, she said: "We know there's not going to be enough globally, and it will be many months before we can cover our own population."
As if the H1N1 virus wasn't enough of a hot button, thanks to Gerberding, viewers found out they had something else to worry about: There weren't going to be enough vaccines.
Not hired for her truthfulness...
Well, Gerberding wasn't right about the H1N1 vaccine. Turns out, there are still plenty of shots to go around (mostly because people don't believe it's safe). But who cares. Merck's got high hopes for her anyway. According to Richard Clark, Merck's CEO:
"As a preeminent authority in public health, infectious diseases and vaccines, Dr. Gerberding is the ideal choice to lead Merck's engagement with organizations around the world that share our commitment to the use of vaccines to prevent disease and save lives."
We hired Gerberding for her rolodex. And what a fat one she has! Just think of it! Not only does she have CDC officials at her fingertips, she also has connections to all the major DC lawmakers as well as leaders at the World Health Organization.
In fact, I'd bet the ranch that Merck had access to Gerberding's rolodex even while she was at the CDC. Why such the cynic? Well, as you'll see, back- scratching was pretty much the norm at the CDC...
You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours
Under Gerberding's leadership, the CDC turned a blind eye to conflicts of interest. In fact, the majority of experts the CDC hired in 2007 had conflicts of interest. According to a new federal report, "The CDC did not identify or resolve potential conflicts of interest for 64 percent of special Government employees in 2007."
Plus, we're not talking about your run-of-the-mill conflicts of interest...like a wife who works for a drug company. No, we're talking about financial conflicts, meaning that some experts voted on issues at the CDC that they could gain from financially.
According to a recent New York Times article, "Most of the advisers [to the CDC]...had either a job or a grant from a company or other entity whose interests were affected by the [CDC] committees' discussions, and a considerable number also owned stock in such companies."
All this happened right under Gerberding's nose.
Even the new head of the CDC has admitted the agency's rife with problems. And he's actually making an attempt (at least publically) to implement stricter rules.
But it's not all fun and games...
I actually feel sorry for Gerberding. It's not going to be all fun and games for her at Merck. For the first time in a lot of years, she's going to have to look at the bottom line of a spreadsheet. And she's got her work cut out for her. Gardasil sales have been slumping (even though the CDC recommends it for 11- and 12-year-old girls). In fact, in the third quarter of 2009, sales were down 22 percent.
Guess word's finally started to get out about this horrendous vaccine (to learn more about my take on Gardasil, check out 8-6-09's Guide to Good Health "Maximizing Profits One Way or Another."
Watch out for more vaccines in 2010
Unfortunately – even if Gardasil doesn't pick up the pace in 2010 – I'm sure there will be another vaccine to take its place. Maybe for pimples. Or maybe even one for dry skin. You see that's big pharma's newest (and scariest) trend. They scare people into thinking their body isn't the most powerful healing machine ever created. And then they make a vaccine for something your body can – and should – fight off on its own.
Just keep tuned-in to my Guide to Good Health in 2010. I'll steer you away from any new vaccines Gerberding and her new (or should I say "old") friends at Merck cook up.